by Max Brantley
People of good faith have positions all across the spectrum on the Department of Veterans Affairs plan to move its day drop-in center for veterans (not all of whom are homeless) to a new location at Tenth and Main.
Mayor Mark Stodola could take some lessons from people in the neighborhood who've resisted tarring the country's military veterans with a wholly unflattering psyco- and sociopathic brush. Some neighbors support the center. Others don't, but much of the opposition has been thoughtful. Critics have raised a variety of specific concerns about hours of operation, after-hours issues and other relevant topics. Stodola's initial "idiotic" remark was not a conversation starter, nor was it particularly persuasive of him to say a nearby liquor store (as if there's a neighborhood without one) is but crack to a cocaine junkie. The suggestion was that all vets seeking services are but one subliminal message away from a crawl to the bottom of a fortified wine bottle.
The mayor's comment in today's Democrat-Gazette beats all, though. To the prospect that federal taxpayers would be out almost $1 million to pay off lease obligations if the chosen site isn't used, Stodola said:
"If there is a financial consequence, then I hope that there is a lesson learned that working in concert with the city and community is a better way to resolve such issues than working in isolation,” he said.
Easy talk with taxpayer money. And spoken with the financial comfort of a man just given an additional half-billion-dollars over 10 years by city taxpayers. What's a million dollars here and there? This kind of talk does not inspire confidence in city financial accountability.
VA officials, by the way, have made it plain that the city has never been much of a cooperative participant in finding places to serve veterans. For all its protests, the city's record is that it is still years behind its commitment to provide services for the homeless within its boundaries. I won't be holding my breath for opening of even a portion of the old Union Rescue Mission purchased by the city for a homeless day center (a structure so bad Union Rescue is abandoning it for better quarters.)
Working with the city has meant, to date, a lot of talk and then a suggestion for a remote, unattractive location. The VA believes veterans deserve better. Too bad that when they advertised for proposals back in July the city and its homeless coordinator weren't reading the newspaper. (Oh, nobody reads legal ads? Then maybe the city should get the law changed that requires the expensive publication of them at taxpayer expense.)
If city officials had read the paper, perhaps they could have come up with better alternatives than those that came in. Maybe the city should help pay the financial penalty for its dereliction if it really wants to achieve a new location. It has plenty of money apparently. If so, the city should be sure to come up with something suitable. Hint: renting space to the feds in the rescue mission castoff out toward Granite Mountain isn't it.
The VA is continuing to move toward the Main Street site. But the head of the VA has yet to be heard from. Some of his final decision may depend on how hard an anti-vets-center push he gets from U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin. He's the reserve military veteran who wraps himself in a uniform on every possible occasion — except here, where post-war service to our defenders is on the line.
PS — A reader thinks Bruce Springsteen's latest, the angrily ironic "We Take Care of Our Own," should be a theme song for the vets center issue.